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Old Apr 22, 2008, 11:49 PM   #1
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First off thanks go to fishycomics for shipping me this camera. This is my first review so please bear with me :-)

[align=center]Aiptek Action HD Review
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Last Editted: 9:00pm, 2008/05/04[/align][align=center][Added new 720p60 macro sample]
[Added video bitrate table]
[Added outdoors and 60fps samples]
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Contents of the package

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- Action HD camcorder, Lithium Ion battery (NP-60, 1000mAh), AC Charger (mini-usb connector), USB Cable (mini-usb), Component video cable (2.5mm to RCA RGB), Video/Audio Cable (2.5mm to RCA stereo audio, composite video), Mini tripod, Remote control, Camcorder carrying case, Wrist strap, Software CD (Arcsoft Total Media Extreme, AVC WMP codec(s))


Capabilities

(from the Aiptek web site)
Image Sensor: 5 Mega-Pixel CMOS (2592 x 1944)
Lens: 3x Optical Zoom lens (7.5mm ~ 21.5mm, F 3.6 ~ 6.7)
Still Image: 3200 x 2400 Pixels (8 Mega Pixel), 2560 x 1920 Pixels (5 Mega Pixel) , 2048 x 1536 Pixels (3 Mega Pixel)
Movie Mode: 1440 x 1080 Pixels (H.264) up to 30 fps, 1280 x 720 Pixels (H.264) up to 60 fps, 720 x 480 Pixels (D1) up to 60 fps, 352 x 240 Pixels (CIF) up to 30 fps
Video Format: .MOV
Macro Mode: 5 ~ 30cm (at 1x fixed zoom)
Normal Mode: 30cm ~ infinity
LCD Display: 2.4" TFT Panel with 270° Rotation
Internal Memory: 128MB built-in; 90MB for Storage
External Memory: SD Card Slot (Max. 32GB SDHC)
AV-IN: YES, Record at 640 x 480 (VGA)
TV Out :HDTV (Component Out), NTSC/PAL Color System Supported


Overall Impressions

I have owned 4 previous camcorders: Samsung Mini-DV (purchased for $300), JVC Everio GZ-MG21U ($519), Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1A ($379), and the new A-HD+ ($170). The Samsung had head recording issues (artifacting even after cleaning… seemed to be heat related); the Everio had low-light and dark video issues; the Sanyo had major compression artifacts, very high saturation, and heavy sensor noise. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect from such a low-cost camcorder considering my past experiences with camcorders costing much more. (Note: I am still running the A-HD+ through its paces.)

After playing with the Action HD, I am very impressed with the video quality for such an inexpensive HD camcorder. Compared to the Xacti HD1A, the Action HD had a lot less sensor noise and the colors were more accurately reproduced. Additionally there were not any ‘jaggies' (compression artifacts on diagonal edges in the frame) or visible ‘macroblocks' (square boxes with obvious borders) in day-time videos which are common-place in low-quality video hardware with low bit-rate / high compression ratios.

Audio has been a common complaint with some of the Aiptek models. I am a newcomer to this category of camcorders and therefore can only say that the Action HD has acceptable audio for what I need. The samples below should demonstrate the typical audio quality. I played a stereo in the background of some clips to try to get consistent audio levels.


Usage

The Action HD's on/off behavior is typical: opening the viewfinder turns it on; close the viewfinder and it's off; pressing the power button after unplugging the USB data cable turns it on.

Setting up your recording options is done via the ‘menu' button with the standard set of options (video resolution, picture resolution, nightshot, white balance, flash strobe, video light, effect, exposure, self-timer, and display options). You can also quickly change some recording settings by using the joystick: UP will set standard or macro mode, LEFT for flash strobe settings, RIGHT for white balance settings, and DOWN for video light settings. These settings cannot be changed while recording so you will need to set up your shot ahead of time.

Recording video is done with the red record button immediately below the zoom slider. I wish the button was a little higher because it is a little awkward to reach ‘down' to it with bigger hands. Zooming is the only shot modification allowed when you are recording. Still images cannot be captured during video capture.

When not recording, still images are captured with the ‘camera' button above the zoom slider. It is a 2-stage button typical of cameras (half pressed will focus, fully pressed with take the picture). The flash strobe will fire twice in quick succession to prevent red-eye which is a nice feature for candid shots in a hybrid. Compared to images from an A-HD+ (which tend to be very hot - lots of red) and HD1A (lots of sensor noise and hot as well), this camera is rather neutral with a bit of graininess in the higher resolution photos.


Personal Notes

- First thing to note is that the video will only look as good as the player which is used to view the files. I have found Quicktime to display jumpy video with a bit of shearing and inconsistent results. Install the decoders that come on the CD or ffdshow to play back the Action HD videos in Windows Media Player for better results. You can also use PowerDVD or the included ArcSoft Digital Theater for playback.

- I wish Aiptek would have included the newer 1200mAh battery that comes with the A-HD+ instead of the 1000mAh. I'll be looking into purchasing a couple 1200mAh batteries with a stand-alone charger.

- I have been using this camcorder in 720p60 mode (1280x720, 60 fps) and have to say that is where it will stay for the foreseeable future. The 1080p30 mode produces nice video with a tiny bit more noise, but the nature of my shooting (fast moving objects) makes the 60fps mode much more attractive.

- The 1080p30 mode seems to have a narrower field of view. As you can see in the last sample below, the no-zoom and full-zoom portions of the video appear to be zoomed in much further than other resolutions. This tells me either that they are interpolating up to 1080p from a 4:3 sensor or some other method to attain 1080p. This camcorder records 1080p at 1440x1080 and then encodes it using a non-square pixel aspect ratio to obtain a 16:9 display aspect ratio. It should be noted that this is a common practice with other camcorders as well.

- The mini tripod is a nice touch as the camera will only stand up during capture if you rotate the screen 180 degrees and close it. With the tripod, table-top recording is possible with the screen extended in its normal position.

- The video light is a nice add-on but will only be useful in very dark environments. Effective range of the light is up to about 7-8 feet after which you cannot really distinguish objects in absolute darkness. There is a blue-cast on the video but colors can still be distinguished when nearby.

- The auto-focus does search more in low-light situations but will narrow in on its subject. I would REALLY like it if we given the option to fix/freeze the focus when recording (disable AF) so that we can shoot fast action without worrying about the auto-focus searching for the subject.

- In my opinion I feel that the controls should be moved to be more accessible. As is, I need to regrip the camcorder to start/stop recording because the record button is in the middle of the body. Zooming also requires me to shift my grip. As long as I do not need to zoom, I can comfortably record with a single hand. This may not be an issue for people whose fingers are a shorter than mine. To correct this, I hope that Aiptek will either remove the dedicated record button and use the selection button (pressing the joystick in) to record or move the record button to the front (like the A-HD models). Also I think they can get rid of the zoom slider and use 2 smaller buttons for zooming (which can be a multi-stage rocker switch to control zoom speed). I think this will help facilitate single-handed recording without having to use the other hand to hold the camcorder when trying to zoom or stop capturing. I've included a mock-up below as to what would be my ideal button arrangement (a bit of self indulgence :-) The original image is copyrighted by Aiptek with some hackery by me.

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Conclusion

This is a very able camcorder at a price that will no doubt get a LOT of people shooting in HD. It is already very obvious that there is a demand for this camcorder (walmart.com was sold out for a long time and in-store stock is sparse). I am pleasantly surprised at the quality of video that this little wonder produces (better than my JVC and Xacti). Despite the ergonomics, it will be what I carry with me for my candid shooting. It is lightweight, compact, and produces a very nice end-result.


Samples

Please do not watch these in Quicktime as it is not optimized enough to play them back at the full framerates at these higher resolutions in Windows. Instead, you can play them in Cyberlink PowerDVD or ArcSoft TotalMedia (run either application, then open the files from in there) or download and install the Haali Media Splitter (http://www.afterdawn.com/software/video_software/codecs_and_filters/haalimediasplitter.cfm)
and ffdshow (http://www.afterdawn.com/software/video_software/codecs_and_filters/ffdshow.cfm) to view them in Windows Media Player (you may need to rename the files from .MOV to .MP4)

Video


Approximate mode / bitrate table:

720p30: ~4 Mbps
720p60: ~6 Mbps
1080p30: ~7.4 Mbps

Outdoors (with wind noise)

720p30 (1280x720 16:9), 30 fps
http://www.driveway.com/k8r8p2p4y1
http://www.driveway.com/w3h7p6b2n3

1080p30 (1440x1080 16:9), 30 fps
http://www.driveway.com/o2s0g1p2d6
http://www.driveway.com/d8c1o0r9a3


Indoors ambient light with background music ~ 6 ft away (the white noise is from computer fans… sorry)

CIF (320x240 4:3), 30fps
http://www.driveway.com/h6s6b0n6r2

D1 (720x480 16:9), 60fps
http://www.driveway.com/a5q7y7a1c3

720p30 (1280x720 16:9), 30fps
http://www.driveway.com/g2s8w7t6j7

720p60 (1280x720 16:9), 60fps
http://www.driveway.com/e0v6w4h6j1

1080p30 (1440x1080 16:9), 30fps
http://www.driveway.com/a7n9b4f6y7


Low-light (dimmed halogen bulbs), no background music

720p30 (1280x720 16:9), 30fps
http://www.driveway.com/i3w2x8c0g4

1080p30 (1440x1080 16:9), 30fps
http://www.driveway.com/z2w1d6g8r0


No-light, on-camera LED light turned on, no background music

720p30 (1280x720 16:9), 30fps
http://www.driveway.com/h4x6m9g5h7

Macro

720p30 (1280x720 16:9), 30fps
http://www.driveway.com/u8k5m8w8l4

720p60 (1280x720 16:9), 60fps
http://www.driveway.com/a1k8y1k6l1

'Fast' action (car ride using the 'headrest squish' mount :-)

720p60 (1280x720 16:9), 60fps
http://www.driveway.com/g7j9o7s4h0
(The headrest was partially covering the microphone :-P)

Stills

5 Megapixel
http://www.driveway.com/z6a8x1m3q3

http://www.driveway.com/s0b8b6m9x5

http://www.driveway.com/t6j5d2w6a0

http://www.driveway.com/n2y3f6t5m2

http://www.driveway.com/a4g4z3n4h3

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Old Apr 23, 2008, 10:16 AM   #2
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Outstanding review.

Private Idaho
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Old Apr 23, 2008, 10:47 AM   #3
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Excellent review. Thanks so much for a clear, well-written piece, with abundant detail, photos and video!

The only decision I have to make is to get this or the A-HD+... and the only question is the AF. If the autofocus is a problem, I'll go with the HD+... if it works okay in normal shooting, I'll go Action HD. Thoughts?

-pete
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Old Apr 23, 2008, 11:15 AM   #4
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Private Idaho,

Thank for the encouragement!

Petehammer
,

I haven't had many problems at all with the AF randomly searching. You can see in the Macro sample that when I moved too close it actually didn't search at all (stayed put). In a couple of the normal samples, it searched when panning vertically up the guitar neck. I haven't had issues with it when filming fast moving objects either.

-Scott
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Old Apr 23, 2008, 12:54 PM   #5
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Now if only Aiptek would put a decent quality stereo mic on the next HD model. Seems a shame to watch high quality video on a large flatscreen TV only to have mono sound!
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Old Apr 23, 2008, 1:21 PM   #6
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rgvcam,

I'd have to agree but it is hard to imagine someone coming out with it at this price. They'd need to add on another A/D converter for the other channel and update the encoding engine. As is, they just include a very basic mic.

In a squeeze, a digital voice recorder with a stereo mic would work, but if you're just looking for off-the-hip shooting, that would be cumbersome :-/

-Scott
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Old Apr 23, 2008, 1:58 PM   #7
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sfritzinger wrote:
Quote:
rgvcam,

I'd have to agree but it is hard to imagine someone coming out with it at this price. They'd need to add on another A/D converter for the other channel and update the encoding engine. As is, they just include a very basic mic.

In a squeeze, a digital voice recorder with a stereo mic would work, but if you're just looking for off-the-hip shooting, that would be cumbersome :-/

-Scott
I wonder what the true cost would be as I would've thought that the encoder chip probably already has the capability to encode a stereo audio stream. Still at this end of the market, anything not considered necessary will be dropped to keep it under a certain pricepoint. I suspect we'll eventually see someone come out with a stereo device at this pricepoint if only to differentiate themselves from the competition.
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Old Apr 23, 2008, 2:10 PM   #8
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Excellent review! Even in details (like thesamples self-explanatoryfile names) everything is nice and precise. Thanks a lot!

sfritzinger, could you please upload anoutdoor videosample with a grass and slow panoraming? In my experience, this kind of footage is hard for compression and good for making decision about camera's videoquality. For example, Jazz 178/188 sample with grass and trees(park with a pond), posted in this forum,is awfully bad, lots ofcompression artefacts - flickering, crawling, blocking.
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Old Apr 23, 2008, 2:39 PM   #9
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His review was so good, I decided to buy an Aiptek Action HD during the noon hour.

I now have it charging.

This should be fun.

Yes, I agree the Jazz HD clips are a disaster; but that's the beauty of this forum.

People with entirely different taste can choose from a variety of different models.

Private Idaho
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Old Apr 23, 2008, 2:57 PM   #10
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Regarding the microphone...

1. a stereo microphone is intended to pick up ambient sound... not dialogue. Even then, the best configuration is to use a microphone that is separate from the camcorder.

2. To record dialogue, a mono microphone can be used in such a way that the same mono audio is distributed over the two stereo tracks during recording. I use Studio 1 Productions XLR adapters: http://www.studio1productions.com/xlr-menu.htm

Private Idaho


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